Connected consumer. It's nearly impossible to separate these two words today. Whether it's checking out online reviews of products on a tablet, comparing notes with friends on Facebook about what to buy, or pulling up a smart phone app to see whether a nearby store has a product on the shelves -- or multitasking several things at once -- everything about what it means to be a consumer is changing.
Even the personality of the consumer, it turns out.
In fact, during the past few years, four very distinct digital consumer personalities began emerging as the speed with which people adopted an ever wider variety of digital gadgets and social groups, apps, and online services ramped up, according to a new survey by the IBM Institute of Business Value. The study surveyed more than 3,800 consumers in China, France, Germany, Japan, the U.K., and the U.S.
For the heads of marketing departments at companies intent on selling more via social media outlets, it's these kinds of developments that help explain how people engage with social media. What it means to be a consumer in the digital age isn't based primarily on age anymore and shared traits can cut across geographical borders.
Instead, today's consumers are defined by how they act, how they use technology from minute-to-minute, what they want to get out of their time spent with their phone or tablet, or what they consider is worthwhile -- or a waste of time.
At the same time, all four of these new personalities share the same expectation, which is instant access on their own terms. With the explosion of the number of digital devices and services out there, one-way communication and distribution of content or products is no longer possible.
According to the IBM study, most users fall into one of four emerging personality categories:
The largest group, or about 41 percent of consumers surveyed, use digital devices and services to simplify their daily lives. Rather than being enamored with tech for tech's sake, they view the adoption of all things digital as a way to make life easier. Efficiency experts send emails rather than letters, use Facebook to communicate with others, access the internet via mobile phones, and shop online.
These consumers can't imagine not being able to get in touch with their friends instantly, regardless of the time of day or where they or their friends are. This group, which represent 15 percent of people surveyed and skews more towards women, visits social networking sites religiously, uses phones to call or text each other, and spends plenty to time online tagging online photos or content on web sites.
More than half male, this group includes dedicated gamers, newshounds, movie buffs, music lovers, and TV fans. These folks, which made up 9 percent of the sample, often watch TV shows and movies online, frequently download music or listen to streaming music online, and regularly play games.
This group, which makes up 35 percent of survey participants, is the window into the future. They combine the behavior of content kings and social butterflies, while taking a more sophisticated approach to going digital. They regularly use apps on their smartphones or tablet devices to check out video, games, and music or look up news, weather, and sports. They often have many apps running at once. They're comfortable with new technology: 32 percent are early adopters compared with 5 percent of the other digital personalities.
The kind of segmentation that's emerging as people get more tech smart is very different from what marketers are used to, and it runs contrary to popular belief that most digital users are young, early adopters. For instance, 65 percent of those surveyed were consumers between ages 55 to 64 who surf the web and text with friends while watching TV.
But because these different digital personalities are starting to emerge now, chief marketing officers (CMOs) have the opportunity to get in step with these new connected consumers. They can provide these different personalities with the kind of engagement, sense of community, and instant access they expect.
Now is the time for providers to develop more strategic and tailored relationships with consumers by focusing on a consumers' overall experience. Connectedness is now the fabric of daily life. It just takes a few numbers to show how networked the world is today. People check their smartphones 34 times a day. Facebook has 900 million members. By understanding how all of this connectedness affects people's personalities, organizations can learn how to meet their expectations. If providers can deliver tailored, captivating content to consumers with success, they will be rewarded. Consumers will not only pay for premium content and enhanced experiences but will offer up their loyalty after accessing it.
Saul Berman is the strategy and transformation leader for IBM Global Business Services.
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"Decapitated head of a businessman in a white shirt with a socket instead of his neck" image via Shutterstock.
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